following the duck home

by Juliet

Look around western North Carolina and it is easy to list off all the reasons why you would move there if given the choice—especially if you are a kayaker. Setting aside all the obvious reasons, it was a rubber duck that sealed the deal for me.

Ten hours. The drive from Capital Hill, WDC to the Nantahala Gorge.  In the late 80’s I made the trip multiple times. In a Toyota Corolla.  With my kayak on top of the car and two 100-pound golden retrievers in the back seat.

It was always so hard to leave WNC after a weekend; I would postpone my departure as late as possible on Sunday, knowing I have to be at the first of my two jobs at 8AM Monday morning—and probably had a paper due for my masters program.

Eventually I decided that I would leave behind everyone and everything I knew to move to western North Carolina–a place that I knew I wanted to call home.  Prior to making such a leap, I thought it would be good to make one more visit to see what western North Carolina was like outside of high season—the only time of year I had ever spent any time there. Over Thanksgiving I loaded up the Corolla with my kayak, two dogs and the rubber duck to head down south.

The rubber duck was not mine. It was Rupert’s — the younger of my two Golden Retrievers. Living in a townhouse on Capital Hill meant walking the dogs. Frequently. So we walked in the morning. Sometimes at lunch. To friends’ houses. And often at night.  My two dogs–Beaver and Rupert, had a knack for snatching up objects on our walks, snatching up tennis balls, stuffed animals, sticks…and one day a rubber duck. The duck was Rupert’s find. And it became the toy-that-went-everywhere-and-anywhere. Rupert could not go on a walk without it. Nor go on a sleep-over. And certainly not go to North Carolina without it.

Arriving in the Nantahala Gorge in November was startling. No one was there! I pulled into Turkey Creek Campground to find it empty. I drove to the river to find it kayaker-less.  It did not take much to guess I would not find anyone to paddle with. So I called the NOC and asked about kayaking. Whoever answered the phone probably hung up after my call and sought out the only three other people on campus in November to tell them about the silly girl that had called. Fortunately for me, one of those few people still in the Gorge was Eric Neis. And on top of that the Ocoee and the Green were both running. I have learned since what a fortuitous combination that was (the Green in particular–that being a story in itself).

Each day after paddling I returned to the campsite and my dogs.  I never saw another person at the campground.  Our Thanksgiving weekend ended too quickly and it was time to head home.  We loaded up in the Corolla and pulled out of Turkey Creek.  It was about Asheville that I realized that Rupert was pacing in the backseat (as much as a 100-pound dog can pace in the back seat of a Toyota Corolla shared with another 100-pound dog).  Pulling over to figure out the problem, I discovered that Rupert was without his rubber duck.

Having to be at work in a little over twelve hours, there was no time to go back. I promised Rupert a new duck as soon as we were home (I stashed away a collection of replacement ducks since they would eventually be gummed to death in Golden Retriever style).

Soon into the holiday season–and being Washington,DC, the weather had turned to miserable and kayaking was the last thing on my mind; therefore, returning home one day to a “pick up at the post office” notice on my door, all I could think was how “lucky” I was have to take time off work to head to the Capital Hill Post Office (located in the crack house part of the neighborhood).  Standing in line a painfully long time (it was holiday season), I was finally “helped” by a holiday-belligerent Post Office employee who handed me a small package personally addressed to my two dogs: Beaver and Rupert.  It could be from no one other than my mother (who else sends their daughter’s dogs presents?!?) I could not wait until home to see what was in the box so I opened it right there in the post office. And just like magic, I had my enlightenment.

Inside the box was Rupert’s rubber duck left behind in North Carolina. Sent to me by Ramelle and Mike of Turkey Creek Campground. I had never met them in person.  Never spoke with them. But obviously they had kept an eye out on my pups while I was out kayaking. They had learned their names. Had learned that Rupert was a lost soul without his duck. They had my address. People I had never met thought enough about me and my dogs (or at least my dogs) to package up a gummed up rubber duck and send it back to me.

Right there in the middle of a Post Office full of unhappy people. I knew I was supposed to make North Carolina my home. The only misunderstanding I had was thinking that I had chosen my home.  I have come to understand that sometimes you do not chose where you are to be, it chooses you.